Dwight E. Neuenschwander, Editor
To all the authors who contributed articles for this issue of our newsletter, I express my appreciation. The article by Cameron Reed on teaching the history of the Manhattan Project hit me rather close to home. For over twenty years I have taught a general-education course called "Science, Technology, & Society." This has been a fulfilling and enjoyable task. It allows me to meet students of all majors across the campus community. It presents an opportunity to share a glimpse into evidence-based reasoning, and helps students discover how the methods of science cannot be reduced to a universal checklist. Together we think about the implications, for individuals and across societies and timescales, of science and its applications.
Each semester this adventure includes two or three weeks of discussions about nuclear weapons and their consequences. As with so many topics, I find this one is best approached through its history. Although I cannot go into the depth that Professor Reed does in his dedicated course, I can affirm some of his experiences. I have seen the looks of surprise when students realize that the authors of the first-generation nuclear weapons were people of warm humanity who found themselves in unprecedented circumstances. I have read the student essays and heard their in-class vocalizations as they struggle with the "what would I have done at the time" questions. I have seen their astonishment when they realize how much the Cold War really cost. I have witnessed their reactions when they see that policies are not always consistent with a nation’s mythos and rhetoric.
This past semester one student, a psychology major, wrote "This week I have been thinking a lot about the scientists who developed nuclear weapons. The video that we watched last week [The Day After Trinity by Jon Else, 1980] certainly shed a different perspective on the whole issue. I am finding more and more that you really do not understand a situation until you are able to see it from the inside out…"
The study of the history of physics powerfully helps us to see physics, and its interactions with the larger society, from the inside out. Thanks again to all the authors who contributed articles for this issue of our newsletter. With each article, I find that I learn something interesting.
Note Added: This article represents the views of the author, which are not necessarily those of the FHP or APS.